To my pleasant surprise, our living quarters was an apartment of 3 bedrooms, each with 2 or 3 bunk beds, and a kitchen in Mid-City New Orleans. To anyone who has gone on a budgeted service trip, this was the equivalent of the Ritz as far as volunteer shelter was concerned. For the past two years on my Spring breaks in South Carolina, I was given a moldy mattress and stuffed into a small cabin no bigger than 50’x50’ with some 15 other guys.The first day of work presented some of the best parts of my service experience on the site. As we went around introducing ourselves, our liaison explained her Mississippi origins and architecture education. Jennifer was a sweet girl, but clearly a very strong, tough woman. What surprised me most, however, was when she pulled out her phone and turned on her Motown radio station. As we all sang along to The Temptations and The Jackson Five, we found a rhythm that would ultimately have us finishing half of what we were expected to do in four days in just one work day. Amidst our hard work, only a few short hours in, the homeowner arrived to show his gratitude. While I am not one to stop work, I did listen intently to John who at one point said something that I will never forget, “I just want to get home and live the rest of my little life”. He just wanted to be with what neighbors he had left, listen to music, and workout to ease his diabetes. A former Military contractor with no kids, he had very little left to do with his time but enjoy it. That’s what reminded me why we I still rebuild places that are scientifically destined for disaster again in the future. I do it because we all deserve access to basic necessities, and if we don’t act as a worldwide community and allow healthy lifestyle for all, that lifestyle will never be fully possible for any.The end of the work day was drawing to a close and there was a significant amount of work left to do, but we were determined to finishing the priming that day so that we could start fresh on the painting the following morning. When I left Boston, I was content with tapering my training for a few days, doing just some Renegade DMC, Shoulder Fix, 50/50s, and scenic jogs alongside streetcars (not named Desire!), but desperate times called for desperate measures, and I employed my GPP skills to my priming with time ticking away. With just three paint roller extension poles for thirteen workers, I had to take matters into my own hands to reach the dry spots on the ceilings and high parts of the walls. Bunny hops with my arms raised above my head for what felt like 30 minutes got the priming done and segued nicely into a well deserved relaxing night.
The rest of the trip was equally awesome, marked by a plethora of unique musical experiences. That first day’s ride home saw me, someone who just recently developed a strong affinity towards heavy, sometimes abstract Rock, defending System of a Down as my teammates scoffed and discounted their musical abilities. Other times on the trip saw a bunch of Northerners as the only ones in a ten mile radius in the South listening to Country music. Some of my favorite musical experiences were with Zydeco music at a Rock & Bowl joint and a small, free Blues show at the U. S. Mint. Dancing the Cajun Jig with middle aged white women was not something I expected to be doing, but am glad I did. Perhaps the most poignant event was at the Blues show, however. I showed up late, shuffling in after stuffing my face with pecan pie, to two older men on stage, a pianist, and a singer. The pianist was seasoned and played with a smooth, experienced temperament and effortlessness. The singer belted out strong Blues tunes with an air of pain, as Blues was meant to be sung, and a unique accent. The accent, I was soon to learn, was an unlikely combination of London English and New Orleans Yat dialect accent. Every so often, among the Yat of this man who grew up with The Animals and played with countless famous artists and at some of their funerals, a distinctly English pronunciation found its way into his speech.
Like Sean’s uncharacteristic ability to philosophize and find a way to exist as several very different things at once (a stereotypical Irishman, a father of a bastard child, a willful traveler) and that Blues singer’s enigma of an accent, life is full of clichés and stereotypes, with sneaky little uniqueness hiding in the cracks. It’s easy to say you know the whole story from the pieces of this world that are common, shared, and expected. I believe it’s our job to find the exceptions, big or small in order to understand this ever complicated intermingling network of unique people and places.(Photos all taken by me. 1. Day 4, final cleanup under the house. A torn up shoe still sits there, 2. Ferry on the Mississippi)